Saturday, February 6, 1988
The crawl space is 18 inches max. Do not touch the rat traps at the entry. Do not read the Termite Treatment list of poisons.
You have to squeeze under 14 inch flexible heat ducts, crushing them as you pass. Fiberglass batts are sagging down from between the joists, clinging to your crawl suit. You creep through 30 feet of dust while brown recluse spiders watch your every move. Daddy longlegs tremble as you pass. You wear a headlamp and shove wrenches ahead of you, dragging your body over nails and broken glass. You can only hope the wires draping across the dirt are well-insulated or low voltage or dead. Spiderwebs wrap your face.
A large puddle has formed under the bathtub where you must work. You lie in it. The drain is next to a post on a concrete pier, leaving only a fraction of the work space you need. Into frozen couplings you shoot Liquid Wrench and breath the toxic fumes. You twist your body into strange positions, seeking leverage with the wrench. With the entire weight of a poorly-built house above, you pray the San Andreas Fault doesn't deliver the Big One today. In California, there are no atheists in crawl spaces.
You need a different part; you creep out; you creep back in. It's amazing what muscles you use, how winded you get, just by creeping. It's amazing how long it takes. Creeping could be an Olympic event.
On your way out, you try to fluff the heat vents you crushed on the way in. At last you emerge, strip off your crawlsuit, and dry yourself with a towel you keep in the truck. Then inside the bathroom, making the difficult transition from big body work to small, like a buffalo washing wine glasses, you carefully install the trim.
After 4 hours, with the utmost competence in a difficult spot you have replaced one bathtub drain.
Howard, the homeowner, returns as you're on your knees wiping some grease stains from the enamel, tidying up. Standing above you and the tub, he looks down. "Haven't you started yet?"
It's just a simple bathtub with a simple drain, and it looks just as it did before.
"Yes," you say. "I'm done."
You go on to the next house, the next job.